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Eating A Late Dinner May Affect Weight & Blood Sugar Levels

Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
By Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Image by Nataša Mandić / Stocksy
June 11, 2020

Intermittent fasting (IF), or time-restricted eating, is more than just a fad. While the diet is not for everyone, many studies have proved that fasting may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as metabolic disorders, like diabetes. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University furthers the evidence that timing of meals can play a role in metabolism and weight loss. 

The small study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found eating dinner late at night may increase blood sugar levels and make it more difficult to burn fat, leading to weight gain. 

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What did the researchers find?

There were 10 males and 10 females in the study. Researchers compared how their bodies metabolized dinner they ate at 6 p.m. versus dinner they ate at 10 p.m. On both occasions the meal was the same, and all participants went to bed at 11 p.m.

After eating the later dinner, participants' blood sugar levels were about 18% higher and they burned 10% less fat while they slept. 

To track those effects, participants wore activity trackers and underwent sleep studies, body fat scans, and gave blood samples.

Is this true for everyone?

"This study sheds new light on how eating a late dinner worsens glucose tolerance and reduces the amount of fat burned,” study author Jonathan C. Jun, M.D., said in a news release. He also added that the effects may vary between people depending on their usual bedtime.

Eating a late-night meal on occasion may be OK for some people. If the habit is chronic, however, it could result in diabetes or obesity, Jun explains. People who already have diabetes or obesity may be even more vulnerable to the effects.

“The effects we have seen in healthy volunteers might be more pronounced in people with obesity or diabetes, who already have a compromised metabolism," author Chenjuan Gu, M.D., Ph.D., said. 

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Bottom line.

This study included only 20 people over the course of one night. More robust research is necessary to determine whether the effects continue over time. Other factors, like behavior, should also be considered in the future. For example, Jun suggests looking at the timing of sleep, not just the timing of the meal.

Ultimately, eating a late meal on occasion shouldn't have a major impact on your body, but this study does provide further evidence that there may be benefits to an earlier dinnertime.

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Abby Moore
Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager

Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.